You are surrounded by Snow White and the seven dwarfs, ninjas and butterflies. AC / DC blares in the background. You know that after running 12 miles and jumping into a container filled with ice-cold water, you will be subjected to multiple electric shocks in the magnitude of 10,000 volts. Although this sounds surrealistic, this is something quite real. And you chose to do this out of your own free will. You thought it would be fun.
This is the scene at the start line of a “challenge” (not a race) called Tough Mudder where you must traverse a number of obstacles along a 12 mile stretch and are encouraged to dress up in ridiculous outfits. A group of friends, 5 of us in total, decided to take a trip to Berlin this weekend to see if we were tough enough, although we left the outfits at home.
In this post I would like to answer two questions: First was it really that “Tough” and secondly “Why”, as in why would you do something like that, which I was asked often leading up to the event. But first a bit more about the event itself.
In total there were 20 different obstacles that we had to cross over 12 miles. Two of the obstacles, I have already mentioned, “Arctic Enema” and “Electroshock Therapy”. These two were probably the most physically painful of the entire bunch.
I am from Wisconsin and I have done the Polar plunge, where you wade into the frigid Lake Michigan waters on New Year’s Day, but the Arctic Enema was worse. Jumping into the water is a complete shock to your system and literally takes your breath away. You become disoriented and your muscles immediately clench up. After jumping into the 20 foot long container filled with ice water, you then have to right yourself, and plunge your head underwater and swim under a barrier in the middle to reach the exit.
In “Electroshock therapy”, you have to run through about 200 wires, some live with 10,000 volts, some not; the problem is you don’t know which ones are which. I was lucky and did not get shocked once, which I have heard almost never happens. My other teammates were not so lucky, getting stung 3 to 4 times. If you fall its worse, since you have to get up and brush through even more wires increasing the chance of finding a live one. The feeling is like getting a "Smurf Bite” wherever the wire makes contact with your body (as urban dictionary explains a smurf bite is a dynamic pinch executed between the thumb and the middle finger, braced by the index finger for added leverage thus increasing the pain ten fold).
In addition, we crawled under barbed wire, climbed over walls, carried large blocks of wood and, for most of the course, sloshed through mud. One thing I can say is that the event really lived up to its name. Two out of five of us threw away their shoes afterwards because they were not salvageable.
Is it really that “Tough”?
It depends on the person. For me, it really did kick my ass. Running twelve miles through mud and elevations changes alone is not such a walk in the park and throw in the obstacles which add upper body fatigue and a bit of psychological stress, it’s a physically and mentally demanding 3 hours (average time). Two people on the team had both ran half marathons (also full marathons) before and both said that if you are trying run the half marathon for a personal best in time, it is probably more exhausting to run the half marathon.
That being said, due to the obstacles, they are considerably more sore now, 2 days after the event, than they would be after a half marathon. Since the Tough Mudder is a challenge and not a race (Tough Mudder’s words, not mine) the time factor did not play a role. If you go for a certain time, it could definitely be more challenging than a half marathon, but that’s not really the point of the event.
Due to the absence of the time factor, Tough Mudder is not as exhausting as a half marathon, but it is more physically demanding and definitely more fun.
Whether it was tough or not, we had three goals, which I am glad to say we achieved:
- to finish
- to have fun
- not to get injured (small cuts, scrapes, bruises, swelling and a lost toe nail withstanding - according to my friend the toe nail was always a bit funny and they didn't see eye to eye on most things anyways)
So back to the question why. The challenge of the event and the sense of accomplishment is certainly one factor, but I don’t think that’s all. I think Tough Mudder finds two other things to motivate you to do it.
First, they make the event fun. They encourage you to dress up like idiots in stupid outfits. They don’t want you to take the event too seriously. Also, I haven’t seen grown men jumping into a puddle of mud with such glee in any other setting. Jumping into the mud, with the feeling of the squish and suction underneath your feet, is really something that takes you back. It’s an excuse to be a kid again.
Secondly, Tough Mudder is a team event and they want you to build some type of camaraderie within your team. Honestly, it’s hard not to become closer to people who you have gone through some type of physically grueling experience with.
Bonus – The taste of a beer after physical exertion is one of the simple pleasures in life. At the finish line, you get handed one “free” beer. This was the motivation we used during the event to keep our spirits up. However, be warned, the beer is super small and any subsequent beer, you have to pay for.
So for me the answer was threefold: to accomplish something, to have fun and to create better connections with those that did the event with me. Why wouldn’t you want to do that?